July 28, 2023
Several weeks ago, I told you the story of a heroic Filipino nurse who tried to save her husband on the Bataan Death March. In my research for that story, I learned how Filipino nurses have been American heroines for a very long time and continue to work bravely to save lives all over the United States.
During the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s when some American-born health care workers publicly refused to treat AIDS patients, Filipino RNs filled the gap.
Similarly, they stepped up to coronavirus
emergency. Nearly a third, (31.5 %) of American nurses who died from COVID-19 complications by September 16, 2020, were of Filipino extraction, while Filipinos number just 4 percent of the total registered nurses in the country. That statistic come from a report issued by National Nurses United.
One nurse at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center had no PPE when she rushed to the aid of a covid patient who'd stopped breathing. Fourteen days later, the nurse was
How Did America Come to Depend on Filipino Nurses?
Celia Marcos trained to be an RN in the Philippines and emigrated to the US in 2001, taking a job as a nursing assistant Hollywood Presbyterian in Los Angeles. She worked her way up to charge nurse supervising high-risk heart attack and stroke patients. When covid hit, she'd spent 16 years caring for some of the sickest patients in the hospital.
A photograph of Celia Marcos, a Filipino-American nurse who died from
COVID-19 in April, is held in the hands of her 25-year-old son, John Paul Marcos. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
A COVID-positive patient was admitted to Celia's floor the night of April 3, 2020, within two hours, he stopped
As charge nurse, Marcos was required to
respond to the code blue. Due to a shortage of PPE at the hospital, Celia had only a thin surgical mask. She knew giving CPR would cause the patient to expel the virus and she would be at high risk of contracting it. Two days later, Celia tested positive. Twelve days later she was dead.
“Without Filipino nurses, the U.S. health care system would have been paralyzed,” says Leo-Felix Jurado, a professor and department chair of nursing at William Paterson University told TIME. “It would have been almost impossible for the
health care system to have safely existed.”
Since 1960, over 150,000
Filipino nurses have migrated to the U.S. In 2019, one out of 20 registered nurses in the U.S. had been trained in the Philippines.
Filipino-American Nurses in Montana.
At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, as a part of the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. purchased the Philippine archipelago from Spain. Settling in for a long military presence, the U.S. colonial government, with the help of American missionaries established
Westernized nursing schools, hospitals and clinics.
“These westernized hospitals and nursing schools were part of a policy of ‘benevolence,’ but it obscured an unequal history. Part of the justification of Americans being in the Philippines was because they were ‘civilized,’ and Filipinos were ’uncivilized’,” says Catherine Ceniza Choy, a
professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley.
At this time of US colonialism in the Philippines, few Filipinos were granted visas to the U.S. But numbers of Filipino nurses were allowed travel to the US for training. They returned to replace American nursing supervisors and faculty at training hospitals and colleges for nursing.
Filipina nurses have been coming to the U.S. since the start of the 20th century.
After WWII, when the U.S. suffered a nursing shortage, Ceniza Choy told TIME, “U.S.
hospitals specifically looked for Filipino exchange nurses because they had been trained in an Americanized nursing curriculum and work culture. And they were also fluent in English as a result of American colonial education and legacy.”
This trend continued as nursing in America became a route to improved social and financial status for Filipinos. Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who held office from 1966 to 1986, saw the demand for Filipino nurses as a development strategy and economic policy for the country.
Nurses earned significantly more money working in the US than at home in the Philippines, creating a flood of migrant nurses who sent money home to support families and helped build the nation’s economy. During the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the 1980s Filipino nurses, once again left home to work
in the US. From 1980 to 1990, the Filipino population in the U.S. soared from 774,652 to 1,406,77.
When Covid travel restrictions were lifted in the Philippine, nurses lined up to leave and work in the
It became clear during the coronavirus pandemic
that Filipino nurses often work in hospital bedside care with critically ill patients, putting them at higher risk of contracting disease.
National Nurses United co-president Zenei Cortez says there is another factor.
“The other thing that I would attribute
to the high rates of Filipino Americans falling victim to COVID is our culture: we treat our patients like they are our families. We are so dedicated and we stay over and that puts all of us at a higher risk of exposure.”
If you're in the hospital today and cared for by a Filipino or Filipino-American nurse, it's likely that nurse is sending part of her paycheck to family in the Philippines. American colonialism alive and well.
News on my writing progress this week!
Some of you know that I've taken on a fiction project, a murder mystery for teens. It's sort of a modern
Nancy Drew story. I really loved those books when I was a growing up. An older neighbor girl had every single one and was happy to share. Her bookcase was a gold mine. She also had all the Hardy Boys books.
This week I finished a first draft of my mystery! The first draft of a book is always the most difficult for me. I love the revision stage, so I'm excited to start on draft two after feedback from my writing
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